Overview on how cooperative work can contribute to the development of students' speaking skills

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(1)RUNNING HEAD: COOPERATIVE WORK TO DEVELOP SPEAKING SKILLS. 1. Overview on how cooperative work can contribute to the development of students’ speaking skills.. A thesis submitted in fulfillment of requirements for the English Bachelor Degree of Alberto Hurtado University.. Undergraduate program Daniela Villarreal Dr. Stephen Darwin.

(2) 2 COOPERATIVE WORK TO DEVELOP SPEAKING SKILLS. Abstract This classroom-based research has as its main goal to understand if the implementation of group work activities in a 10th grade EFL class of a school located in Puente Alto is beneficial for students to start developing speaking skills. The methodological approach taken in this study is a qualitative one based on Kostoulas & Lammerer (2015) work. Data for this study were collected using student's’ surveys, teacher’s interview, artefact analysis and reflective journals prepared by the researcher. Overall, the outcomes indicate that, group work seems a more positive way for students to work. Nevertheless, the detrimental constituent that affected students’ oral development was the deficient time to deeply implement cooperative work as the approach to work with.. Key words: cooperation, group work, speaking skills, EFL class..

(3) 3 COOPERATIVE WORK TO DEVELOP SPEAKING SKILLS. Introduction. The fundamental purpose of learning a language is to employ it in order to communicate with other people. In an EFL classroom, interaction is the pivotal component to achieve that aim. As stated by Yu (2008), “it is generally accepted that classroom interaction can facilitate students’ language development and communicative competence” (p. 48). The author also adds that “the effectiveness of classroom language learning has something to do with the nature of classroom interaction.” (p.48) that is why this research is focused on students’ oral development when implementing cooperative approach in their language classroom.. The school in which this research proposal took place was “Colegio Mirador”, a subsidized and secular institution located in Puente Alto. Specifically, it was undertaken in a 10th grade in which there were 39 students aged between 16-17 years old. They have 2 and half hours of English classes per week. According to what it has been empirically observed, students’ proficiency level is most likely to be between A1 and A2, because according to the C.E.F.R, most students possess “an ability to deal with simple, straightforward information and begin to express oneself in familiar contexts.” (p.250). In relation to the English lessons, students are used to working in different ways (individually, in pairs, groups, etc.). Nevertheless, the issue that was identified as significant was they lack the necessary skills to work cooperatively. It had been empirically observed that when students are asked to work in groups, only some of them complete the given assignment, while the rest demonstrated disengaged behaviors by using their cellphones or speaking about something that was no related to the English class..

(4) 4 COOPERATIVE WORK TO DEVELOP SPEAKING SKILLS. Specifically, this research focused on developing students speaking skills by the integration of group work strategies. The rationale behind this research was that- under a communicative approach- the aim of a language classroom is to achieve communication in the target language. According to Richards (2006), CLT approach seeks that students attain communicative competence. This competence can be summarized as an individual’s ability to use and produce language for different purposes keeping communication, despite having limitations in one’s language knowledge. (Richards, 2006, p. 3) Accordingly, it can be argued that communication is the main goal and what needs to be foster in an EFL classroom. Thus, the implementation of group work strategies would be useful to promote interaction among students. By assuming roles in their groups, students would have to associate themselves with their classmates in order to reach their aim. Another important reason why this is important to be addressed is the fact that students have presented difficulties with oral skills. That is why this research tries to contribute specifically developing students’ speaking ability.. This study therefore aimed to address the following research question: How does the adoption of improved strategies to foster cooperative work in the production stage contribute to start the development of 10th graders’ speaking skill in the language classroom?. Methodology. Since this research plan was focused on understanding the research question, data analysis was conducted under a qualitative approach. According to Kostoulas & Lammerer (2015), “qualitative data analysis is based on the processes of data reduction, identifying patterns and generating ‘understandings’ (...)” (p.6) The reason why this methodology was the most appropriate in response to the research question is because as James (2008) notes, “data collection and analysis tools are employed when practitioners need to delve deeply into.

(5) 5 COOPERATIVE WORK TO DEVELOP SPEAKING SKILLS. circumstances and understand the human motivations involved.” (p. 66) In this specific case, the research question aims to understand group work among 10th grade students, which is a complex dynamic that involves human interaction.. It is important to highlight that a workshop to explore the relevance of cooperative work, define students’ group and their respective roles in the groups (searcher, reporter, timekeeper, recorder, consultant) was conducted before the data were collected. In addition, two interventions in relation to students’ productive stage were recorded as a source of information.. The analysis of the interviews and surveys were examined through thematic coding by identifying key topics. In this process, it was necessary to read and summarize data in order to create organized categories. Consistent with the expectations of qualitative methodology, after identifying patterns there was a requirement to connect differing forms of data and analyze their implications for the research question.. In a similar way, artefact analysis and reflective journals required a systematic textual analysis of the outcomes. The idea was to focus on the issue and identify repeated patterns or themes in the evidence students provided.. The first method to collect data used for 10th grade students was surveys (see appendix A). This tool was used before intervening as a way of individually gathering students’ opinion towards certain relevant topics related to cooperative work and their impressions about the development of speaking skills in the classroom. In addition, surveys were also applied after the interventions (see appendix C) in order to collect data about how.

(6) 6 COOPERATIVE WORK TO DEVELOP SPEAKING SKILLS. students felt after working under this new approach. This time, the interviews were responded in groups as a way of keeping the methodology of group work and also as to simplify data. This tool was useful specifically to provide students’ viewpoint in relation to the research topic. As stated by Jansen (2010), “the qualitative survey studies the diversity of a topic within a given population.” (p. 10) another relevant aspect that needs to be considered is that surveys were written and responded in Spanish, as to avoid misunderstanding or problems to communicate the ideas learners truly wanted to express, reducing students’ anxiety.. A second data collection tool was an interview (see appendix B). This was undertaken with the English teacher before the interventions. The reasons why this is important are: in order to have the educator’s perception about the phenomena and because of the path he has went through with students. Since the teacher has been teaching students during 3 years, he can provide a deeper perspective about the development of group work and speaking skills. An interview was also done after the interventions (see appendix D) and this one was written and responded in English. The idea of doing so was to have the teacher’s perspective before and after the cooperative approach was implemented. As Mason (2002) claims, interviews sometimes can be useful to explore “the understandings, experiences and imaginings of research participants.” (p. 90) This is the reason why this tool was a suitable way of capturing what the teacher thinks, understands and believes.. A third tool analyzed was students’ artefacts. As it was necessary to understand if group work helped to develop students’ speaking skills, students “outcomes” were examined. That is to say, every artefact students produced, was a source of data analysis. Specifically, students outcomes were depicted through two video recordings of their speaking skill in the production stage. According to Sadalla & Larocca (2004), “the video recording is also.

(7) 7 COOPERATIVE WORK TO DEVELOP SPEAKING SKILLS. suitable for studying complex phenomena such as teaching practice, full of liveliness and dynamism, which is influenced by several variables simultaneously.” (p. 423) That is because this research implemented recorded videos to try to understand this phenomenon.. Finally, reflective journals were written by the researcher in order to have the last perspective not only in relation to group work, but also about the development of students’ speaking skills. These were developed during the two interventions made. These self- reports had as their main focus group work development, students’ roles in their groups, students’ use of English and oral production. This was an effective tool, since as claimed by James (2008), they provide a “subjective account of the event from the point of view of the writer (...)” (p.70), which was actually what the researcher was aiming to achieve.. Findings. The first finding refers to students and teacher’s perception of group work formation; the second finding relates to roles in group work, then pronunciation as the main issue for students to speak, and the last one deals with the insufficient time students had to practice cooperation.. Teachers and students had a similar perspective on group work constitution Data gathered through the surveys and interviews suggested that the perception of group formation between the teacher and students was considerably alike. Both stated that it was more beneficial for students to choose who they were going to work with. As several students mentioned after and before the interventions:.

(8) 8 COOPERATIVE WORK TO DEVELOP SPEAKING SKILLS. Respondent 1: “prefiero trabajar con mi grupo de amigos, ya que sabré llegar a acuerdos con ellos, lo cual se que no pasaría con otros compañeros.” [survey A] Respondent 2: “prefiero formarlos yo porque estoy con personas de confianza y trabajo mejor así.” [survey A] Respondent 3: “las fortalezas trabajando en grupo fueron que como con los que trabajamos eramos amigos, si alguno no estaba cumpliendo su parte del trabajo entre nosotros mismos podíamos apurarlo.” [survey C] The teacher also stated the same in the interview, adding: Teacher: “[students] make groups as they wish.” [interview B] These answers suggest that group work has been an advantageous way of working for 10th grade students when they have formed the groups. This information becomes significant for the research question in relation to the integration of cooperative work.. Different perceptions about the effectiveness of roles in group work Another finding was that there were differing perspectives about roles’ effectiveness. As already mentioned, students decided on the roles they played in their groups during the interventions. With that respect, students differed a little bit about the ways in which this was carried out. Some of them established: Group 1: “la mayoría de nosotros cumplió su rol de manera adecuada.” [survey C] Group 7: “la mayoría del tiempo cumplimos con nuestros roles, aunque a veces nos distrajimos.” [survey C] While others said: Group 3: “sinceramente no todas cumplimos el rol en el trabajo.” [survey C] Group 4: “en nuestro caso no se cumplió con los roles como se asignaron.” [survey C].

(9) 9 COOPERATIVE WORK TO DEVELOP SPEAKING SKILLS. In addition, the teacher stated a factor that could explain this situation. He claimed that: “probably they [students] needed more time to practice their roles in the group.” [interview D] When reviewing the reflective journals, it was found an analogous situation. “I also notice that roles were not being accomplished. So, I started to remind students that they had a role to follow” [October 31st] “I noticed that in this opportunity, roles were being more accomplished in relation to last class. Nevertheless, there were still groups that were not doing anything.” [November 8th] Data recommend that for some students and for the teacher it was beneficial to have a role in mind while developing the post activities. This is important to the research question since even when students claimed that group work was somehow an efficient manner of working, not all of them were able to accomplish their role. In a way, this could indicate that students’ perception of what cooperative work actually is, was not clear enough.. Pronunciation as the main issue for students to speak Another finding found was pronunciation as the detrimental factor that harms students’ possibility to speak in the language classroom. A huge number of students said that their problem when referring to orally express ideas in the classroom was pronunciation. As responded to the question, what is the most difficult part when speaking in English? Respondent 4: “el pronunciar bien las palabras.” [survey A] Respondent 5: “que las palabras se escriben diferente de como se pronuncian.” [survey A] Respondent 6: “hacerlo delante de todos porque si uno se equivoca todos se rien.” [survey A].

(10) 10 COOPERATIVE WORK TO DEVELOP SPEAKING SKILLS. Similarly, the teacher stated that: “the big issue about speaking is that students try not to make pronunciation mistakes and get embarrassed when they do, so they don’t do it naturally.” [interview B] This event was also clearly depicted in the video recording. For students were difficult to pronounce several words which was detrimental to understand what they were saying. As literature suggests and data confirm in this case, for students the pronunciation of some words in the target language was a detrimental factor when they wanted to orally express their ideas, opinions, etc. This finding is meaningful for the research question because it is directly related to the students’ oral production. Data suggest that pronunciation might be a factor that is hindering students’ development of speaking skills.. Insufficient time to practice cooperation and oral skills In relation to the last theme that was identified, all of the students, the teacher and the researcher responded in the surveys and interviews that there was insufficient time to practice cooperation in the classroom and, consequently, as also was also portrayed in the video recordings, oral skills were not enhanced. As a significant majority of students and teacher’s responses after the interventions demonstrate: Group 1: “ (...) nos gustó tener un rol que cumplir y creemos que si hubiesemos trabajado más tiempo con esta modalidad habriamos aprendido mas.” [survey C] Group 7: (...) pero igual faltó mas tiempo y practica para que saliera mejor.” [survey C] The teacher also claimed: “(...) they needed more time to learn their roles, etc. The with speaking activities. They require more time to practice.” [interview D] When analyzing reflective journals, it was also found the following thinking: “Something I realized about when observing their group work development and their presentations was that they lack time to practice what they had to present.” (October 31st).

(11) 11 COOPERATIVE WORK TO DEVELOP SPEAKING SKILLS. The last finding alluded to the lack of time that students had to practice cooperative work and, therefore, to develop their oral skills. This is significant to the research question because is undoubtedly a limitation that might have hindered the efficiency of the implementation of cooperative work.. Implications. Under the circumstances of not having enough time to collect more data and also for students to practice cooperation in the classroom by having a gradual process to start their oral development, it is difficult to claim that the new approach proposed was effective in developing student speaking skills. Nevertheless, the outcomes have shown that group work was a comfortable way to work for students and if they would have more time to practice it, they probably could have shown a progress in their speaking ability.. There are several studies that can be compared or contrasted, in one way or another, with this one in relation to the context and/or the outcomes. The first study that is comparable to this one was undertaken by Lee (2014). The main purpose of this work was to “examine how group work benefits English Language Learners in the classroom” (p. 8) and she found out that “group work allows students to practice and develop oral language skills.” (p. 30) Then, even when this research had a similar aim, the results were not the same. Since this study expected to find an oral progress in students while they were working cooperatively. In two reflective journals it was stated that even when students were working in groups and respecting their roles, they were not using the target language to share ideas. Furthermore, this situation was also evidenced in the video recordings. It was observable that students did not enhance their oral development..

(12) 12 COOPERATIVE WORK TO DEVELOP SPEAKING SKILLS. Another study conducted by Castillo (2007) found that “during the experience students found reasons to express themselves orally and a path to use their previous knowledge through learning and teaching actively” (p. 84). This idea of students having specific reasons to communicate was also a missing factor in this research. Besides, due to students’ proficiency level, it could have been better to explicitly teacher or help students to find authentic reasons to orally express their ideas or thoughts.. In relation to the limitations of this study, the most determining one was time constraint to implement cooperation and, as a consequence, to evaluate the development of students’ speaking skills.. Another relevant limitation was lack of students’ motivation and engagement in the task. Even when activities were thought to be meaningful and appealing to students, they seemed not to have a real impact in their engagement. This factor was really disadvantageous because as was evidenced in Bahous, Nola & Nabhani’s (2011) case study, “motivating students in the English as a foreign language (EFL) classroom is often a complex and difficult task that involves a multiplicity of psycho-sociological and linguistic factors” (p.33). This factor leads to the last limitation of this research which has to do with students’ linguistic competence.. Finally, the last limitation that was found and that is common in the Chilean EFL classroom is the low students’ English proficiency level. It was a challenging instance to try to develop cooperative approach and to focus on speaking skill in this specific context. As data demonstrated, most students express it was difficult for them to try to communicate.

(13) 13 COOPERATIVE WORK TO DEVELOP SPEAKING SKILLS. ideas in English. Not only because of the difficulty to pronounce certain words, but also, as other stated, because they felt ashamed and they did not know how to express some ideas.. Notwithstanding, there were always students who were willing to learn and try out these new activities. In spite of that, it is of utmost relevance to take into consideration students’ preferences, likes, background, etc. when planning these sorts of activities.. Conclusion. Based on the results reported here, it can be concluded that if there had been more time to practice cooperation and therefore to develop students’ speaking skills, the implementation of group work in the production stage would have contributed to the development of 10th grade students’ oral ability. One of the most important reasons for saying so was a theme that emerged in every data collection: lack of time as the detrimental factor to accomplish the desired outcomes.. In spite of that, a new understanding that has emerged in this research context is that most of the time, students are willing to try out new ways of working. Nevertheless, it is of utmost importance to assure that teachers are giving students enough tools for them to accomplish what is required. For example, in this specific case, taking into account students’ proficiency level, what was also missing was giving students certain patters or structures to help them to communicate inside their groups.. Thus, despite this research was conducted in small- scale, it is important to suggest further investigation about cooperative work and also about students’ speaking skills development in the Chilean EFL classroom..

(14) 14 COOPERATIVE WORK TO DEVELOP SPEAKING SKILLS. References Bahous, R., Bacha, N. N., & Nabhani, M. (2011). Motivating students in the EFL classroom: A case study of perspectives. English language teaching, 4(3), 33.. Castillo, P (2007). Improving eleventh graders’ oral production in English class through cooperative learning strategies. Profile Issues in Teachers Professional Development, (8), 7590. James, E. A., Milenkiewicz, M. T., & Bucknam, A. (2008). Participatory action research for educational leadership: Using data-driven decision making to improve schools. Sage.. Jansen, H. (2010). The logic of qualitative survey research and its position in the field of social research methods. In Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung/Forum: Qualitative Social Research(Vol. 11, No. 2).. Kostoulas, A & Lammerer, A.(2015). Classroom Based Research: Materials created for ELT Connect 2015. University of Graz.. Lee, J. (2014). Using Group-Work to Optimize Learning Opportunities for Grade 1 and 2 English Language Learners in the Classroom.. Mason, J. (2002). Qualitative researching. London: Sage, 2nd edition, ISBN 0, 7619(7428), 8.

(15) 15 COOPERATIVE WORK TO DEVELOP SPEAKING SKILLS. Richards, J. C. (2005). Communicative language teaching today. SEAMEO Regional Language Centre.. Sadalla Aragão, A. M. F. D., & Larocca, P. (2004). Autoscopia: um procedimento de pesquisa e de formação. Educação e Pesquisa, 30(3).. Yu, R. (2009). Interaction in EFL classes. Asian social science, 4(4), 48.. Appendix A) Students’ surveys before the interventions. ENCUESTA IIº MEDIO A Lee las siguientes preguntas y contesta de manera honesta. NO hay respuestas malas o buenas. Este trabajo no ENCUESTA IIº MEDIO A Lee las siguientes preguntas y contesta de manera honesta. NO hay respuestas malas o buenas. Este trabajo no será evaluado y es anónimo. Siéntete libre de contestar con toda sinceridad. En relación al trabajo en grupo… 1. ¿Te gusta trabajar en grupo? Justifica tu respuesta ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ 2. ¿Cómo prefieres que se hagan los grupos? Formarlos tú, al azar o no te importa trabajar con cualquiera de tus compañeros. Justifica tu respuesta ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ 3. ¿Dividen el trabajo cuando deben realizar alguna actividad en grupo o todos trabajan juntos en lo mismo? ¿Por qué crees que sucede esto? ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ 4. Cuando trabajas en grupo, ¿todos trabajan o sólo algunos de tus compañeros? ¿Por qué crees que pasa esto?.

(16) 16 COOPERATIVE WORK TO DEVELOP SPEAKING SKILLS. ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ 5. ¿Crees que trabajar en grupo es una oportunidad para aprender? Justifica tu respuesta ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ 6. ¿Cómo te sientes más motivado trabajando en clases? ¿Individualmente, en parejas o en grupos? Da razones por las cuales esto pasa. ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ 7. ¿Crees que la forma en que trabajan en grupo es la adecuada? En otras palabras, ¿sabes trabajar en grupo? Justifica tu respuesta ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ 8. ¿Qué crees que se debería hacer para trabajar en grupo de mejor manera? ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________. En relación a las actividades orales… 1. ¿Te gusta trabajar en actividades en las cuales debas hablar en inglés? Justifica tu respuesta. ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ 2. ¿Qué es lo más difícil para ti a la hora de hablar en inglés? ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ 3. ¿Crees que es importante comunicarse en inglés? ¿Por qué? ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ 3. ¿Crees que si en vez de tener que hablar delante de todos, sólo tuvieses que hacerlo en tu grupo, sería más sencillo para ti hablar en inglés? ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________.

(17) 17 COOPERATIVE WORK TO DEVELOP SPEAKING SKILLS. 4. ¿Alguna vez has utilizado el inglés para comunicarte mientras trabajabas en grupo? Da razones del porque si lo has hecho o porque no. ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ B) Teacher’s interview before the interventions Background Information a. How long have you been teaching at this school? ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ b. How many years have you had this grade? ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________. Group Work in the Classroom 1.In your classes, do you include group work? If so, why? ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ 2. Do you think group work in currently effective? If not, what would you do to improve group work? ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ 3. In your experience, what have been some of the benefits of implementing group work in the English class? ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ 4. What do you think the challenges of including group work in your classroom are? ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ 5. How are groups formed in your class?.

(18) 18 COOPERATIVE WORK TO DEVELOP SPEAKING SKILLS. ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ Speaking skill 1. What have you observed in relation to speaking activities in this specific grade? Do they have problems? If so, what kind of problems? ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ 2. Do you think productive skills (speaking and writing) are difficult to be addressed in this context? If so, why? ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ 3. Do you think group work allows fostering students’ speaking skill? Please explain. ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ 4. What do you think students’ limitations to speak in English are? ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________. C) Students’ surveys after the interventions ENCUESTA IIº MEDIO A Lean las siguientes preguntas y contesten de manera honesta. NO hay respuestas malas o buenas. Este trabajo no será evaluado y es anónimo. Siéntanse libre de contestar con toda sinceridad. 1. ¿Creen que TODOS cumplieron su rol de manera adecuada? Den razones ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________.

(19) 19 COOPERATIVE WORK TO DEVELOP SPEAKING SKILLS. 2. ¿Cuáles fueron sus fortalezas y debilidades trabajando en grupo? FORTALEZAS → DEBILIDADES → 3. ¿Les gustó trabajar en equipo teniendo un rol? Justifiquen porque ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ 4. ¿Creen que mejoraron su manera de hablar de una actividad a otra? ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ 5. ¿Creen que los resultados que obtuvieron fueron mejores que los que hubiesen obtenido si hubieran trabajado en la forma que habitualmente trabajan? (sin tener roles) ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________. D) Teacher’s interview before the interventions 1. Do you think students enhanced group work? Did they work in a better way after the two interventions? ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ 2. Do you think giving students roles to work was positive? why, why not? ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ 3. In relation to speaking, can you see any progress on students’ performance? ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ Comments ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________ ___________________________________________________________________________.